U.S. Travel

Things You Should KnowU.S. TravelWining/Dining

FAMILY THANKSGIVING IN NAPA

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If you have either been to Napa and/or know those who have, the concensus is clear.  It appeals on so many different levels to so many people.

Nonetheless, every travel experience contains at least one head-scratcher.  Our flight from Burbank to Oakland was flawless, arriving early with a half-full plane. However,  the rental car pick up was anything but “flawless.”  Remember the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry has a car reservation, but there’s no car available? Bingo. “Anyone can T A K E a reservation,” a frustrated Jerry says to the woman behind the counter.  “But you have to H O L D the reservation.” How exactly does a car rental company have no cars for their bookings?  Fortunately, steps away from Fox was Avis who solved the problem and off we went.

Silverado Country Club offers spacious units with three bedrooms and two baths so that was our choice.  Our family of four could spread out, bring in food for breakfast with the full kitchen and be very comfortable.  COVID meant none of the typical services, but the front desk responded promptly to all our requests.

Over the course of the week, our adventures would satisfy the most dedicated oenophiles.  Son Sam created and with the hubby operates a family enterprise, The Cellar Beverly Hills.  Now in our third year, we offer private wine storage with concierge services and much more.  Given the business has been built almost entirely by word of mouth, imagine our collective glee hearing from a prominent winery that TCBH is quite well known among Wine Country vinters. We were ecstatic.

The images below are from Wheeler, a custom crush facility where we had a tasting from Accendo Cellars.  The bottom photo is Wheeler’s open kitchen (to die for).

Make no mistake — this was a working trip.  Thanksgiving provided a much-needed respite, but the rest of the days were spent making and enhancing winery relationships (21 in all).  If you want to help this area from a devastating year — not just from COVID closures but the fires — buy wine!

We did our part.

Along with wine, the other joy of Napa is eating lots of great food.  Because there are so many choices, strategy was needed to try everywhere we wanted to go.  A couple of restaurants were nixed because of closing for the transition to complete outdoor dining (Avow and The Charter Oak).  A mix of new and old made up the rest:  Mustard’s Grill, Oenotri, Bistro Don Giovani, Celadon, Gott’s Roadside (a must), Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and our favorite, Poesia in San Francisco.

Tasting at Hartford in Sonoma

You should know a word about outdoor dining this time of year. It’s cold. Very, very cold.  When the sun goes down, Napa drops at least 20 degrees. Every night was mid-40’s. One night required keeping my gloves on between the courses.  The establishments do their best with heaters but those unfortunately don’t reach one’s feet. Brrrr.

Mustard’s on Hwy 29
Celadon entrance

Poesia was a last-minute find for Thanksgiving dinner.  The food (shown below) was fantastic but even more fun was Pietro, the crazy, animated, fun and enthusiastic caretaker of our table.  This Italian/Jewish/filmmaker might just show up on our doorstep one day.  Prego!

Above (clockwise from upper left):  Eggplant parm, Cabbage salad with pears, walnuts & goat cheese; incredible rigatoni marinara; ravioli with pumpkin filling, sage and balsamic.

Below, the quartet of desserts:  Hazelnut gelato with hard chocolate shell; (take the gun but leave the) cannoli; millefoglie with apple; tiramisu.  All magnifico!

Pietro at Poesia

A few precious and careful visits with friends and family were icing on the proverbial cake to this spectacular week.  As a result, layers of ongoing and much welcomed (small) gatherings were added with cousin visits in Silverado, San Francisco and Lafayette.  We got in a quick coffee in Sebastopol with a high school friend, along with tastings at Jeff Cohn Cellars and Littorai in Sonoma.

Touring Mayacamas

Napa continues to be one of the best — if not the best — vacation destinations there is, so go!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

DEEP IN THE HEART (AND SOUTH) OF TEXAS

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The recent trip to Texas for the glorious World Series was not just about attending the games.  There was more to do and enjoy in the Lonestar State, starting with some pretty great meals.  I know; that’s shocking.  First in Dallas followed by a couple days with our Houston friends.

Sightseeing:  Highland Park and Preston Hollow for spectacular homes; SMU Campus including the George W. Bush Presidential Library (currently closed)

Dallas digs:  AC Hotels by Marriott, a new brand (to me) — upscale, modern and very reasonable! Under $1oo per night for spacious king.

Dallas restaurants:   The Mercury and Yardbird (first grid); Terry Black’s for excellent BBQ in Deep Ellum — a very hip area located near Baylor U (second grid).

Terry Black’s food and outdoor smokers

Next, we hightailed it down to Houston to spend a couple days with our longtime friends there (Kay & Fred Zeidman). For the Houston dining, highlights were Kenny & Ziggy’s deli (“We Schlep Nationwide” via Goldbelly), Killen’s BBQ (fabulous!) plus Porta’Vino and somehow DQ always seems to pop up and we can’t resist.

Ziggy (in mask) makes terrific food!
Killen’s BBQ killed it!
Porta’Vino

We’re always sad to leave our Texas friends — especially after this particularly spectacular visit.  We even loved seeing Fred’s WS ring from the Nats organization — we “countered” in our Dodger gear.  Can’t wait to see y’all again!

 

Lapdog Willa felt just like home.

 

 

U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINA’S :: HILTON HEAD, BEAUFORT AND HOME AGAIN

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Note:  Sorry for the long delay in this final post from the June trip to the Carolina’s.  Life intervened but happy to be back with this wrap up and future posts to follow! 

The idyllic setting at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island was just the ticket to wrap up our swing through both of the Carolina’s (see previous posts here).  It’s an easy drive down the highway from Charleston to the general area.  The hubby was in charge of finding a place for lunch prior to arriving at our hotel.

To say that he entered nirvana at Magiamo in Hilton Head is the proverbial understatement for this year or any other.  The restaurant happens to have very good pizza, but the food is completely secondary to the experience as the “home away from home for The Ohio State Buckeyes.”

“You can’t believe all the stuff here!!”
Memorabilia from other Ohio teams

From the moment one enters, it is literally Buckeye memorabilia covering every inch.  Signed and framed jerseys, game balls, newspaper articles, enormous photos from big wins and every other item one can imagine.  The one that truly “hits below the belt” is shown in the photo below, a testament to the depth of the Michigan rivalry.  We’re told that game viewing is insane, probably second only to being at The Shoe (aka Ohio Stadium).

Ouch .. the ultimate diss.
Oh, what a game! Hubby and son were there.

If living in a gated golf community is what you desire, then Hilton Head is your place.  Once on the island, we passed innumerable entryways to communities.  We walked past what appeared to be multi-unit buildings, town homes and single-family residences — all part of the Harbor Town area.  It seemed like everyone was riding bikes, even at night when it was too dark to see a street sign!

Harbor area.

As with the recent road trip, our itinerary was routed to include another high school reunion.  In nearby Beaufort, SC, en route back to Charlotte for the flight home, we visited two LA transplants. We had a great time hearing about life there vs. what we know it to be in California.

High school friends and sisters Lorraine & Sheila

Here are some quick facts on travel adapted to mitigate the spread of COVID ::

  • Don’t expect much in the way of housekeeping. The first time full service was provided at any hotel we’ve stayed in (either this trip or the previous one) was in Hilton Head.  We were asked at check-in for our preferred time slot so we could plan to be out of the room.  This helps the staff with fewer encounters.
  • The smaller of the two pools also required a reservation to preclude over-crowding.  Likewise the gym.
  • Everything is under wraps, including remote controls.
  • There are signs posted as to how many should be in the elevator at one time.  At Sea Pines, it was limited to one family per ride; in Charleston it was no more than six people but the elevators were much larger.

None of the above facts are noted for anything other than information sharing.  If one chooses to travel at this particular time, one needs to know that the hospitality industry is both trying to survive while at the same time doing everything possible to mitigate any spread according to guidelines.

Poolside social distancing.

My takeaway: Same as with the previous road trip, travelers are happy to be out and about.  It’s hot as hell, it’s summer and we’re being mindful.  Clearly others may feel differently and we all just need to respect one another’s choices.

 

U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINA’S :: CHARLESTON

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Why do so many people have a love affair with Charleston?  That’s such an easy question to answer (said this “expert” after a three-day visit).  Southern charm, waterfront destinations, great restaurants, walk-able streets, lots of history, affordable lifestyle for residents, and so on and so forth.

View from the Hotel Bennett rooftop
First lunch and a must in Charleston
Leon’s Oyster Shop — great food

South Carolina’s largest city has it all going for it, including subtropical weather — a drawback for me.  The timing for this trip was unusual in keeping with pretty much everything else this year so it was go with the flow.  I would love another visit in spring or fall.  It’s a good idea to always carry an umbrella for the sudden and intense downpours.  The summers are hot and humid, exactly our experience.

Charleston Gaillard Center for Performing Arts

It seemed like there were tall church steeples in just about every direction, reinforcing Charleston’s nickname of “The Holy City.”  But it’s also home to two very old synagogues, Kahal Kadosh Elohim (below) founded in 1749 (fourth oldest in the United States) and Brith Shalom Beth Israel, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the south — founded in the 19th century.

Kahal Kadosh Synagogue

We had an interesting experience apropos of what’s going on nationwide.  Upon exiting Hotel Bennett on Marion Square for the evening, we witnessed a a rally and protest taking place simultaneously.  At issue was the statue of John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President.  One side was generally advocating for monuments to remain in place; the other for removal.  The statue was taken down on our last day per the decision of the Charleston city council.  By the way, removal of such is no easy task.  Our 7th floor room was barely higher than the statue itself.  The top portion was removed via an enormous crane, but we were told the large granite base will remain for the time being.  The CPD did an excellent job of keeping the peace during this heated period, exhibiting grace under pressure.

For history buffs, a visit to Fort Sumter is a must.  Much like the gentleman we encountered at Bennett House (see previous post), one of the rangers at the Fort is likewise in his retirement “job.”  These guys really know their stuff.  At the risk of sounding like a judgemental parent, I asked him if any of the teenagers that visit seem remotely interested in the history of the Fort.  As was pretty obvious, he said most barely look up from their phones.

At Fort Sumter with the Ravenel Bridge in the background

If one is in the area, seeing Angel Oak on nearby John’s Island is an absolute must.  This extraordinary tree was in the private care of the Angel family for most of it’s 300-400 year history.  The City of Charleston took over in 1991.  It is 28′ in circumference and provides 17,000 square feet of shade.  It’s nearly impossible to get the entire tree in a photo!

Angel Oak — the main portion
Side branches

After a terrific stay, it was back to Highway 17 for the two-hour drive to Hilton Head, the last stop on our visit to the Carolina’s.  Details to follow in the next post.

Classic home in Charleston
Favorite Charleston images
U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINAS: WHAT EXACTLY IS “THE TRIANGLE?”

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Following a two-night stay in the wonderful city of Charlotte, the next destination was just 150 miles northeast to explore the area of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, aka “Research Triangle” or simply “The Triangle.”  How did the area become so-named? The name is based on the geography of the three universities in the area (Duke, University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill and NC State) whose research facilities are an enormous draw to the area.   The medical facilities at Duke alone are simply staggering.  I might be looking at a visit to the famous Duke Diet & Fitness Center after indulging on all the recent travel!

Chapel at Duke

Of course for a couple of college basketball junkies, Duke and UNC are at the pinnacle.  We included visits to both arenas, unfortunately closed at the present time for obvious reasons.  Duke is a magnificent campus, enormous at 8,600 acres for just 15,000 students.  It’s a very hefty price tag to attend (all in more than $80k per year) with lots of famous names adorning buildings around the campus.  I hope the students prove worthy of this fine institution and education.

Honoring the legendary Coack K
Cameron Indoor Stadium

UNC in nearby Chapel Hill is a lovely campus as well, albeit the difference between a state school and a private school is fairly obvious.  There’s also a significant medical center and the same type of rolling hills as Duke.

Dean E. Smith Center at UNC
Courtesy of UNC legend and new NBA retiree, Vince Carter

As for NC State, we saw the football and basketball venues.  For their basketball games, they share PNC Arena with the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, across from the football stadium.  Particularly in this part of the country, sports plays an enormous role.  Who could forget the Durham Bulls immortalized in the wonderful 1988(!) film Bull Durham.  They have a new and gorgeous stadium, but it was at the original property used for the film where we actually got to see some baseball being played.  These are college kids from as far away as Atlanta (according to one grandfather we spoke to) just trying to get playing time.  The families watched from the surrounding sidewalks or in their cars due to the heat.  Only the players were allowed inside the stadium.  That’s what you do for your kids.

Durham Bulls new stadium

One of the best food finds in all the travel was at Jujube in Chapel Hill.  The dinner was absolutely sensational — in particular their Thai Yellow Gazpacho.  Fortunately for me, the hubby disdains cold soups so no sharing was required.  I highly recommend a visit if you’re coming to the area.

Dinner at Jujube: Vegetable wraps, calamari and that gazpacho!

We visited Bennett Place State Historic Site, where the largest surrender of the American Civil War occurred in April 1865 ten days after Lee surrendered to Grant. Coincidentally, a connection was made with the volunteer/docent who admired the hubby’s cap and our masks with Dodger logos.  He is a recent transplant from Ventura (near Los Angeles), who relocated to the area as a huge college hoops fan.  He retired from teaching and coaching, cashed out on his home and bought in the area with enough left over to live very well.  There’s something to be said for that.  He knew his history; he and the hubby had a lengthy discussion about the War and the Bennett family.

History buffs.
Bennett House

If a city visited happens to be a state capitol, we always try to do at least a drive through.  Raleigh is the most historic and older looking of the three areas.  There was a fairly strong police presence.  A large statue honoring Confederate lives lost was still standing when we visited, although nearly covered in graffiti.  Clearly this part of The Triangle was just reopening as lots of windows were yet boarded up.  We’ll hold good thoughts that the area remains peaceful as people express themselves.

The North Carolina part of this trip ended in Wilmington along the Riverfront.  From there, on to South Carolina … to be continued.

Duke Pond
Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY: A VISIT TO THE CAROLINA’S

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When a great fare was “scored” via American Airlines for an arguably optimistic June trip to Anguilla only to have the island remained closed, a quick decision was made to go anyway.  Obviously not to the island, but rather keeping the round trip flights to and from Charlotte.  I have found the upside to these travel disruptions is a seemingly greater flexibility and willingness on the part of the airlines (at least AA) to make changes.  The original fare included “free” system-wide upgrade awards (meaning flying up front without using miles); that somewhat played a role in the decision.

My curiosity about flying during COVID has been satisfied.  Here’s my report:   The TSA folks have managed to create a “no touch” procedure.  Rather than handing over your ID, they ask you hold it next to your face for comparison, and they remain behind plexiglass.  There are distancing signs as well as cleaning crews everywhere.  Masks, are of course, required in the terminal.  Few food stores were open, but it was a very early flight.

On board the flight, masks are required at all times except if a passenger is eating or drinking.  Even though this was a cross-country flight of more than four hours, there was no beverage service although we were able to request drinks after take-off.   Snack bags were provided at boarding:  a small water bottle, a bag of corn nuts and a wipe.  Upon landing, deplaning is like leaving a funeral — stay in your seat until the row in front of you has exited.  The directions were somewhat adhered to.  All in all, the whole experience was uneventful.

Worth the wait!

The year 2020 for us has been about visiting new states as opposed to new countries.  With this trip, my count is 46 out of 50 (still missing: Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama), of which I am very proud.  Neither the hubby nor I had been to the Carolina’s.  Again, it didn’t take long to map out the 11-night itinerary.  There’s so much to see, the trip could easily be longer.  It is a relief to have “short” drives to the various stops, as opposed to 400-500 miles on average covered daily in the recent road trip.

NASCAR HQ

As for Charlotte, it is immediately apparent why this has become one of America’s best cities in which to reside.  The hubby and I seriously considered leaving CA maybe 10 years ago.  We took a survey that asks what your priorities are for a city and then tells you what location best suits your criteria.  Charlotte was at the top of the list for both of us.  When our kids settled in LA for their careers after college, we decided to stay put.

Downtown Charlotte

The city is a sprawling metropolis but at the same time is easy to navigate with some beautiful residential areas. Gracious homes on generous lots is very different from what we So Cal dwellers are accustomed to — not to mention how much less the cost is for much more house.  Of course there were some delicious food finds; one is depicted in the photos below from Flour Shop.  Bank of America headquarters anchors downtown Charlotte along with their beloved Panthers’ stadium, Hornets’ arena and a beautiful new stadium for the AAA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  My personal favorite — Lowe’s — is likewise based in Charlotte, together with more than a dozen Fortune 1000 companies.  Big city opportunities, southern charm and four distinct seasons.  All that’s needed is an MLB franchise.

Next stop:  Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — aka The Triangle.

Jerry Richardson brought the Panthers to Charlotte.

 

Help!  Where can I see a game?